DADE CITY — The Rev. Nathaniel Sims and his wife Ardell brought their three surviving granddaughters home last weekend following a car crash March 10 that killed their son, daughter-in-law and 5-year-old grandson.
Sims, pastor of St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church, conducted services Sunday morning at his church on Seventh Street, but his normally booming voice was muted in the wake of the tragedy. He sat wearily clutching a handkerchief, in contrast to the swaying women's choir behind him.
"Mrs. Sims is with the girls," Sims told the congregation. "And it's going to take a lot for them to get on with their lives. We need your help."
Authorities say that late on March 10, Justin Sims, 31, was driving his family back from a shopping trip in Polk County when he ran a stop sign and collided with a 1999 semitrailer truck at State Road 33 and Deen Still Road in Polk City. On impact, Sims' Buick was lodged under the trailer and dragged about 400 feet.
Sims, his 28-year-old wife, Sharonda, and their 5-year-old son Savion, were in the front seats, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said. All three were killed.
Their daughters, Ariel, 7, and Kitty, 2, were in the back seat along with 3-month-old Arienne. The older girls were hospitalized; the baby was not injured. Sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Eleazer said the baby was restrained in her car seat, but none of the other children or parents was wearing a seat belt.
The crash happened at a desolate intersection where a red flashing light above the stop sign normally alerts drivers approaching the intersection. Authorities say it was not working the night of the crash.
The Rev. Sims, 68, announced that the funeral services have been moved from St. Paul's to accommodate an expected large crowd. They'll be held Saturday at First Baptist Church, 37511 Church Ave., with a wake at 10 a.m., followed by the funeral at 11. A luncheon will be afterward in St. Paul's community hall.
Sims and his wife plan to care for the girls now with their parents gone.
"The girls are recovering physically and emotionally. It is our intention to raise them ourselves," he said.
The family is requesting donations for the girls be made at the San Antonio Federal Credit Union branch in Dade City. A bereavement account has been established in the name of the Sims family.
Guest speaker, evangelist Voncelia Amos from Ocala, urged the congregation on Sunday to "rebuke the heaviness."
"Spread your arms around them," she said. "Find one little word to lift them up."
When asked what one little word provides him comfort, Sims repeated twice: "faith."